Point BI in the direction of Albuquerque

Most businesses think that they generate a lot of data and information that needs to be managed. But in most cases, this is nothing compared to the amount of data that is created when running a major city, which is sort of like one business that runs and manages many other businesses. This was the challenge facing the IT department of the city of Albuquerque. The city's CRM system was just one application generating tons of data. "The amount of data we can capture in our CRM system is tremendous," said Brian Osterloh, applications development manager for the city of Albuquerque. "On the other hand, the amount of data we can capture in our CRM system is tremendous. It's a double-edged sword: You have a lot of data--how do you let people know where it is?" The city had been dealing with all of this data--and more--through the use of business intelligence software from Cognos. The software, which the city had been using since the late 1990's, was initially implemented to handle financial data and human resources. But as the demands on the Cognos system grew, so too did the difficulty in finding the right information. "As we continued to add functions, it got more and more difficult to find specific data," Osterloh said. The city also made use of Cognos ReportNet to provide Web access to BI reports. However, if a user couldn't find a necessary report, he or she would ask IT to create one. Or, if the user had the skills, he or she could create the report themselves. However, this sometimes led to the problem of duplicate reports designed to find the same information. Chris Framel, the Technical Program Manager II of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, who also worked on the city's BI project, said, "With managers and up it would be nice to have a search tool where they can just type in something and go through the hundreds of packages we have and let them find what they want."

BOsterloh.jpgFor more on eWEEK's look at the integration of search and business intelligence, read Search and BI Make a Great Team.

Listen to the Tech Rising podcast as Jim Rapoza talks to Brian Osterloh and Chris Framel, of the city of Albuquerque, about the city's project to combine business intelligence with search.

Most businesses think that they generate a lot of data and information that needs to be managed. But in most cases, this is nothing compared to the amount of data that is created when running a major city, which is sort of like one business that runs and manages many other businesses.

This was the challenge facing the IT department of the city of Albuquerque. The city's CRM system was just one application generating tons of data. "The amount of data we can capture in our CRM system is tremendous," said Brian Osterloh, applications development manager for the city of Albuquerque. "On the other hand, the amount of data we can capture in our CRM system is tremendous. It's a double-edged sword: You have a lot of data--how do you let people know where it is?"

The city had been dealing with all of this data--and more--through the use of business intelligence software from Cognos. The software, which the city had been using since the late 1990's, was initially implemented to handle financial data and human resources.

But as the demands on the Cognos system grew, so too did the difficulty in finding the right information. "As we continued to add functions, it got more and more difficult to find specific data," Osterloh said.

The city also made use of Cognos ReportNet to provide Web access to BI reports. However, if a user couldn't find a necessary report, he or she would ask IT to create one. Or, if the user had the skills, he or she could create the report themselves. However, this sometimes led to the problem of duplicate reports designed to find the same information.

Chris Framel, the Technical Program Manager II of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, who also worked on the city's BI project, said, "With managers and up it would be nice to have a search tool where they can just type in something and go through the hundreds of packages we have and let them find what they want."

Looking to solve these problems, the city this spring explored whether a combination of search and business intelligence could improve access to vital data needed to run the city. Using a combination of Cognos and a Google search appliance with the OneBox feature, Osterloh and his team added search capabilities to the city's traditional BI system.

To perform this implementation, they first indexed report packages within Cognos, which proved to be one of the tougher tasks of the implementation. "The hardest part was getting the index to work," Framel said. "Because we have so many cubes and so much data out there, you really have to work on how you want to index because it will go deep down into the reports and into the data itself." Deciding beforehand the data that would need to indexed proved to be vital to reducing this workload.

Getting Google OneBox to work with the Cognos system proved to be a much simpler task. "Setting up [Google OneBox], pointing it to the index and getting results back [was a] piece of cake," said Framel.

With this setup, users can access a traditional Google interface to search for data in the Cognos system. When users click on a link in the returned results, they are passed over to Cognos ReportNet to access the information. Access control is handled within ReportNet. According to Osterloh, the city ios just now moving past the initial beta phase and should have an implementation running within its firewall by October.

The implementation is in separate search box silos, meaning that if a person wants to do a BI search, he or she uses the Google OneBox implementation and another search interface for traditional searches. However, when the city eventually implements the Cognos/Google platform outside of the firewall, it will be important that both data sets are delivered from the same search interface: "We don't want to imply that if you use one search box or the other, that that's all the data there is," said Osterloh. "Once we go outside the firewall, it will be pretty beautiful because we use Google on our Web site. So, once somebody inputs[, for example,] a councilor's name and it comes up with their home page but also comes up with the campaign finance report and the travel report and those types of things, you now have a comprehensive view."

Osterloh has high hopes for the internal rollout as well, especially in its ability to make BI more accessible. "My expectation is that this will greatly enhance the ease of adoption with new users and especially management and executives," he said.